The Ultimate Fighting Championship has produced many, many surprise results over the years, and for the first instalment of ‘Ultimate Upsets’ we simply have to go back to the famous night where Holly Holm proved that Ronda Rousey was not an unstoppable force.
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Allow me to set the scene. At the time of this fight there was no bigger star in the UFC or the sport of mixed martial arts than Ronda Rousey. Dana White had once declared that we would “never” see a women’s fight inside the Octagon, but Rousey was undeniable. Not only did she make the UFC president perform a U-turn on those comments, she made him eat his words by becoming a box office smash and the sport’s first true crossover star.
Rousey was everywhere – she graced magazine covers, including iconic boxing magazine, ‘The Ring’. She was in the news, she was in movies, she was on the radio – everybody wanted a piece of the unbeaten UFC women’s bantamweight champion. And throughout all of the chaos she had maintained an aura of invincibility inside the Octagon by taking out opponent after opponent, often in less than a minute, thanks to her trademark armbar.
By the summer of 2015 she had amassed a perfect 12-0 record with all 12 of those victories coming via stoppage, and only once in that time had she been taken beyond the first round. So when it was announced that her 13th professional outing would be against a fighter who had, quite honestly, underwhelmed since arriving in the UFC, almost everyone predicted another successful defence for the UFC women’s bantamweight champion.
Rousey’s streak of submission finishes had been interrupted as she reeled off three KO/TKO victories in the space of four fights building up to this one, but her stand-up game was still sloppy and full of holes so there was no way that she was going to try to mix it up on the feet with former boxing and kickboxing star Holly Holm. She would just do what she had done so many times before – get hold of her opponent, toss her to the mat, sink in the armbar and make them tap. That is what the fans predicted… that was what I predicted. We were all wrong, so very wrong.
56,214 fans piled into the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia on December 14, 2015 to set a UFC attendance record that still stands to this day, and they were left stunned by what many would consider the biggest upset in the history at the promotion.
Rousey aggressively pursued Holm around the Octagon during the early stages of the fight and although she did manage to land a couple of decent punches, the challenger’s excellent footwork and movement kept her out of trouble and also allowed her to return fire herself. There were a few nervous moments when Rousey was able to pin Holm up against the cage, but that lasted a matter of seconds as ‘The Preacher’s Daughter’ shrugged off the champion and landed a couple of strikes that had Rousey stumbling a little. Holm was peppering the champion with strikes at this point and Rousey desperately needed to take the fight into her world and get Holm to the canvas. She managed to do just that midway through the first round, but Holm patiently slipped out of the back and the look on Rousey’s face said it all. For the first time in her career she looked frustrated and bewildered, and that look remained on her face as she repeatedly charged forward and ate punches and kicks in return for the remainder of the round.
Battered. Bloodied. Bewildered. Those are words that could be used to describe an exhausted Rousey as she headed to her stool at the end of the round. She was in desperate need of some good advice from her trainer, but her trainer was Edmond Tarverdyan so there was no danger of that happening. Instead of switching things up he seemed to encourage Rousey to continue trying to stand with Holm – a ridiculous decision that would bring about his fighter’s downfall in the second round.
Rousey once again chased after the challenger as the round got underway, and Holm responded by repeatedly tagging her with ease while making the champion look like a complete amateur. It was only a matter of time before a new bantamweight queen would be crowned and ‘The Preacher’s Daughter’ finally put Rousey out of her misery a minute into the second round when she sent Rousey crashing to the canvas with a head-kick. The follow-up shots were merely exclamations points – the era of Ronda Rousey was over and she would never be the same again.
The former champion did make a comeback a year later, but she was destroyed in less than a minute as Amanda Nunes sent her into retirement (and the world of professional wrestling). Holm, meanwhile, never quite managed to recapture the magic of that night. She lost the title in her very first defence, tapping out to Miesha Tate with just 90 seconds to go in a fight she had dominated, and has not put together back-to-back wins since then.